Feline Health

The Lowdown on Nutritional Supplements

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This article was provided by Nancy Kay, DVM.  Dr. Kay is a Diplomate of the  American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.  She is the recipient of the American Animal Hospital Association 2009 Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award and author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life.   The article was written for pets, but it applies just as much to supplements for humans.

The nutritional supplement industry has become big business as people are looking for more natural ways to care for the health of their pets.  For example, a person might be inclined to try glucosamine or chondroitin sulfate for their dog’s arthritis pain rather than a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication (the equivalent of doggie Advil).

The number of nutritional supplement manufacturers has grown exponentially.  Unfortunately, the quality of products hitting the market is somewhat hit or miss.  There is no FDA approval process for nutritional supplements, and incidents of contamination with heavy metals, pesticides, or other unsavory ingredients have been reported.  Additionally manufacturers are not required to comply with specific formulations for their products- the strength or concentration of the active ingredient may be inadequate, too much of a good thing, or just right.

Knowing this, how in the world can the average consumer purchase a product that is safe and effective?  Certainly query your vet for his or her recommendations.  We veterinarians are taught to use the ACCLAIM system (described below) to assess nutritional supplements.   You too can use this system to make educated choices about these products for yourself and your four-legged loved ones.

A = A name you recognize.  Choose an established company that provides educational materials for veterinarians and other consumers.  Is it a company that is well established?

C = Clinical experience.  Companies that support clinical research and have their products used in clinical trials that are published in peer-reviewed journals to which veterinarians have access are more likely to have a quality product.

C = Contents.  All ingredients should be clearly indicated on the product label.

L = Label claims.  Label claims that sound too good to be true likely are.  Choose products with realistic label claims.

A = Administration recommendations.  Dosing instructions should be accurate and easy to follow.  It should be easy to calculate the amount of active ingredient administered per dose per day.

I = Identification of lot.  A lot identification number indicates that a surveillance system exists to ensure product quality.

M = Manufacturer information.  Basic company information should be clearly stated on the label including a website (that is up and running) or some other means of contacting customer support.

For more information about Dr. Kay, please visit her website at http://www.speakingforspot.com or Spot’s Blog at http://speakingforspot.wordpress.com/

How to Cope With Losing a Pet

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For those of us who share our lives with animals, it’s inevitable that at some point, we will be dealing with losing these beloved friends.  Over the last ten years, I’ve lost three cats, and I’ve helped many clients through pet loss during the years I worked in veterinary clinics.  As a result, I’m often asked how to cope with losing a pet.

Different things work for different people.  Each situation is unique.  Was the death sudden?  Did it come after a prolonged illness?  Was it the first time the person experienced losing a pet?   I share my own experience of dealing with pet loss and grief in Buckley’s Story – Lessons from a Feline Master Teacher, and maybe my readers will find some commonalities with what I went through.  Even though no two people will deal with pet loss in exactly the same way, I’ve found some common things that can help ease the pain at least a little.  I’ll also share some resources at the end of this article that have helped me when I’ve had to deal with grief and loss.

Acknowledge that losing a pet is a very difficult experience.  Many people, especially people who don’t have pets, don’t realize that losing a pet can often be far more difficult than losing a person.  Many of us view our pets as children, especially if we don’t have children of our own.  For most pet owners, losing a pet is very much like losing a child.    Don’t let anyone tell you that you should “get over it,” “it was only an animal,” or, even worse, “you can always get another one.”  Expect to feel the same emotions you would feel after a person close to you dies.  In Elizabeth Kuebler Ross’ model, the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and eventually acceptance.  Expect that some of these stages may be magnified after losing a pet.

Mark the pet’s passing with some sort of ritual.  It’s important to acknowledge that your pet is gone.  A ritual can be something as elaborate as a memorial service and burial ceremony, or something as simple as lighting a candle in your pet’s memory each night for a little while.

Find supportive family and friends.  Not everyone in your life will be able to handle your grief.  It’s important that you find people who are comfortable with being supportive, can handle letting you cry, listen while you talk about your pet, or who can just quietly sit with you.  Many people don’t know what to do or say when faced with someone who is grieving, so, afraid of saying the wrong thing, they don’t say anything at all.  This can make you feel even more isolated during a difficult time.  Try not to judge people for their inability to handle your grief, and spend more time with those who can.

Allow yourself time to grieve.  There is no way around grief – the only way to deal with grief is to move through it.  If you try to ignore it, it will catch up with you when you least expect it.  You may need to spend an afternoon or an evening crying.  You may not want to distract yourself all the time.  While it’s not healthy to get stuck in your grief, pretending that nothing is wrong is equally unhealthy.  Try and find a balance.

Find things that comfort you.  Whether it’s a walk, music, a favorite book, looking at photos of your pet, or a perfect cup of tea, find small things that provide comfort for you. 

Getting over the loss of a pet takes time, and it takes being gentle with yourself.  If you find that you simply can’t cope, and that even supportive family members or friends aren’t enough to help you get through this difficult time, consider getting professional help.  And know that even though it seems hard to believe when you’re in the middle of grieving the loss of an animal friend, there is truth to the old adage that time heals all wounds.  It does get a little bit easier as time goes on, and one day, upon waking up in the morning, instead of your first thought being about your pet being gone, you’ll find yourself remembering something wonderful about your departed friend.

Resources:

• http://www.veterinarywisdom.com/ is a wonderful site for anyone looking for information on pet loss. The understand that it’s hard to face the future when you know it won’t include your beloved animal companion, and they offer a plethora of resources to prepare for and cope with pet loss, as well as to celebrate and cherish the pets we love.

• http://www.petloss.com/ provides information on how to cope with pet loss, a bulletin board to exchange messages and gain support from others grieving the loss of a pet, healing and inspirational poetry, and links to other internet pet loss sites.

• BooksFor Every Cat an Angel and For Every Dog an Angel by Christine Davis.  These little books are wonderfully illustrated and celebrate the connection between a human and his or her forever cat or dog.

• Music:  Some people find music plays an important part in the healing process.  One particular cd that I have found very helpful anytime I’ve dealt with loss, whether it was an animal or a person, is Beth Nielsen Chapman’s cd Sand and Water.  The singer/songwriter wrote the songs on this album after the loss of her husband to cancer.  The songs on the album reflect the many stages of grieving and healing, and are just as applicable to pet loss as they are to human loss.

• Private Pet Loss Consultation:   I offer phone consultations to help you navigate through your grief.  Sometimes, talking to someone who has experienced this devastating loss can make a difference.  For more information on consultations, click here.

Advances in Veterinary Medicine – Highlights from the ACVIM’s Annual Meeting

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The ACVIM is the American College for Veterinary Internal Medicine.  It is the recognized specialty college responsible for establishing training requirements, evaluating and accrediting training programs, and examining and certifying veterinarians in the veterinary specialties of Cardiology, Oncology, Neurology, Large Animal Internal Medicine, and Small Animal Internal Medicine.  As a non-profit organization, the ACVIM promotes and fosters scientific and professional activities that lead to better care for both animals and humans through training, education and discovery.

Each year, the ACVIM hosts a meeting that features cutting-edge internal veterinary medicine lectures and educational programs.  This years’ meeting took place in Montreal, Canada June 3-6.  Pet Expert Steve Dale, the author of the twice weekly syndicated newspaper column “My Pet World” (Tribune Media Services) and host of nationally syndicated radio programs Steve Dale’s Pet World, The Pet Minute with Steve Dale; and Steve Dale’s Pet World on WLS Radio, Chicago presented a summary of highlights from the meeting on the Good News for Pets site.

Is Your Vet Cat-Friendly?

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You just had a lovely breakfast served by your devoted  human.  You’ve settled in for your morning nap in the fist sunny spot of the day, and are dreaming of chasing mice and being revered as a Goddess by all humans.  Life is good.  Suddenly, your favorite human wakes you up out of your deep sleep, and gives you a hug.  Okay, not something you really need to have right now, but you love your human, so you tolerate it.  But wait – what is happening?  All of a sudden, your formerly loving human turns on you!  You’re shoved into a small container, you’re bounced around, and next thing you know, you’re in a loud, rumbling very small room that actually moves!

You know immediately where this is headed.  Yup – it’s your bi-annual visit to the vet’s office.

For most cats, going to the vet’s is stressful, and for some cats, it’s so upsetting that they turn into snarling, hissing, scratching, biting little or not so little terrors.  Going to a veterinary clinic where the doctors and staff understand cats can go a long way towards making the experience less stressful.  What should you look for to determine whether a veterinary clinic is feline-friendly?

Ideally, look for a feline-only practice.  You will find more and more of these practices in large, metropolitan areas, and even in some smaller, rural areas.  If this is not an option where you are, look for the following:

  • Does the practice have separate cat and dog waiting areas?  Most cats, especially cats who don’t live with dogs, hate the noise and smell of dogs and do much better if they dont’ have to deal with a dog’s face in front of their carrier while waiting for the dreaded exam.
  • Does the practice have cat themed decorations as well as dog themed ones?  This can be an indicator of which species a practice prefers to deal with.
  • Does the clinic have separate exam rooms for cats?  Since most cats don’t like to smell dogs, this can help keep cats calmer.
  • Do the doctor and the veterinary staff speak calmly and move slowly when introducing themselves to you and your cat?
  • Do the doctor and staff take their time with your cat?  Your cat has just been through the stress of a car ride and possibly a short wait in a crowded waiting room.  Having a doctor or staff member come at him with a thermometer, stethoscope and needles without first giving the cat a little time to get used to the environment will not make the exam go smoothly.  Veterinary staff who know and like cats know this and will act accordingly.
  • Do the doctor and staff acknowledge your cat’s anxiety, or do they make disparaging remarks?
  • While cats need to be handled different than dogs, restraining a fractious cats with unnecessary roughness is never okay. 

These are just some of the things to look for when you’re choosing a vet for your cat.  Be your cat’s advocate, and don’t be afraid to ask questions and speak up if you don’t like how your cat is being handled.

Pets and Lawn Chemicals – Not a Good Combination

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While a green lawn is pretty to look at, you should think twice about how you go about achieving that lush, green look.   The pesticides we apply to our lawns and gardens are hazardous to our pets.  Pets can absorb pesticides through their paws or lick it off their bodies. In addition, pets can be exposed to pesticides when they eat grass.   Some of the chemicals found in herbicides are also easily tracked indoors on your shoes.  An EPA funded study in 2001 found that 2,4-D and dicamba (a chemical used in herbicides) are easily tracked indoors, contaminating the air and surfaces inside residences and exposing children and pets at levels ten times higher than pre-application levels.

This should be enough to make any pet owner think twice about using chemical fertilizers.  There are plenty of natural and organic alternatives to these chemicals that are not only safer for your pets, but also friendlier to the environment.

Insecticide and pesticide poisoning is always an emergency situation and requires immediate veterinary attention.  Symptoms of insecticide poisoning are:

• Excessive salivation
• Tearing of the eyes
• Excessive urination
• Muscle twitching
• Weakness
• Difficult breathing
• Collapse
• Nausea
• Vomiting
• Abdominal pain
• Weakness
• Dizziness
• Unsteady gait

Repeated exposure to phenoxy herbicides (example: 2,4-D) may affect the liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and skeletal muscles. Some pesticides contain chlorophenoxy acids and are poisonous to the blood, leading to anemia, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), thrombocytopenia (low platelet count), and feline distemper.

Don’t put your pets’ health at risk – look for natural alternatives to keep your lawn green and your yard weed-free.

Happy 4th of July – Keep Your Pets Safe

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Happy 4th of July from The Conscious Cat!

Independence Day is one of our favorite holidays.  As we mark the day with parades, picnics and fireworks, remember that noisy celebrations can be a scary time for our pets.

An animal’s sense of hearing is much more acute than ours, and so the noises are much more intent for them.  Add to that the lack of understanding of what is going on and you can have a very scared pet on your hands.  But celebrations like the 4th of July don’t have to cause such anxiety for your pets.  Here are some tips for helping your pet cope with fireworks, thunderstorms, and other loud noises:

  • Don’t take your pets to outdoor celebrations. The loud noises and colorful skies may be fun for you but they are not enjoyable for your pet. In fact, they can be quite dangerous. A scared dog, running through crowds and/or traffic in the dark is a recipe for disaster.
  • Ideally, leave them at home with a human companion. If you must leave them alone, place them in a secure room or crate. Cover the crate with a blanket to help reduce the noise. Shut the curtains and drapes and turn on lights to lessen the flash of the fireworks.
  • Leave on a TV or music to drown out the noise from the fireworks. (This works during thunderstorm season as well.)
  • Make sure that they are wearing their identification tags and that the information is current.
  • Exercise them before the festivities begin — tire them out with a rigorous game of fetch or a long walk. Be sure to do this an hour or two before you leave them to give them time to calm down and enter a restful state.
  • Consider a natural calming aid like Rescue Remedy.

Hot Weather Tips for Your Pets

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In summertime, the living isn’t always easy for our animal friends. Cats and dogs can suffer from the same problems that humans do, such as overheating, dehydration and even sunburn. By taking some simple precautions, you can celebrate the season and keep your pets happy and healthy.  The ASPCA offers these hot weather tips for pets:

– A visit to the veterinarian for a spring or early summer check-up is a must; add to that a test for heartworm, if your dog isn’t on year-round preventive medication. Do parasites bug your animal companions? Ask your doctor to recommend a safe, effective flea and tick control program.

Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle-hyperthermia can be fatal. Even with the windows open, a parked automobile can quickly become a furnace in no time. Parking in the shade offers little protection, as the sun shifts during the day.

– Always carry a gallon thermos filled with cold, fresh water when traveling with your pet.

– The right time for playtime is in the cool of the early morning or evening, but never after a meal or when the weather is humid.

– Street smarts: When the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog stand on hot asphalt. His or her body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn. Keep walks during these times to a minimum.

A day at the beach is a no-no, unless you can guarantee a shaded spot and plenty of fresh water for your companion. Salty dogs should be rinsed off after a dip in the ocean.

Provide fresh water and plenty of shade for animals kept outdoors; a properly constructed doghouse serves best. Bring your dog or cat inside during the heat of the day to rest in a cool part of the house.

Be especially sensitive to older and overweight animals in hot weather. Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus, as well as those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

– When walking your dog, steer clear of areas that you suspect have been sprayed with insecticides or other chemicals. And please be alert for coolant or other automotive fluid leaking from your vehicle. Animals are attracted to the sweet taste, and ingesting just a small amount can be fatal. Call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435 if you suspect that your animal has been poisoned.

Good grooming can stave off summer skin problems, especially for dogs with heavy coats. Shaving the hair to a one-inch length – never down to the skin, please, which robs Rover of protection from the sun – helps prevent overheating. Cats should be brushed often.

Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.

– Having a backyard barbecue? Always keep matches, lighter fluid, citronella candles and insect coils out of pets’ reach.

– Please make sure that there are no open, unscreened windows or doors in your home through which animals can fall or jump.

Stay alert for signs of overheating in pets, which include excessive panting and drooling and mild weakness, along with an elevated body temperature.

Water Safety

For a lot of families, summertime means swimming time. If your pooch will be joining you on your adventures, be it lakeside, oceanside or poolside, please read our following tips:
– Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool.
– Not all dogs are good swimmers, so if water sports are a big part of your family, please introduce your pets to water gradually.
– Make sure all pets wear flotation devices on boats.
– Try not to let your dog drink pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause GI upset.

For more information about the ASPCA, go to http://www.aspca.org/

Arthritis in Cats – How to Recognize and Manage It

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Arthritis, a condition that affects as many as 1 in 3 adults, also affects our pets.  It is a condition in which an animal’s joints become inflamed.  It is accompanied by pain, heat, and swelling in the joints, and it usually results in increasing stiffness and immobility.   Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is the most common type of arthritis in animals as well as in humans. Over time, the cartilage that cushions joints wears down and bones start rubbing against each other. As the condition progresses, the friction can wear down and damage the bones themselves. This kind of arthritis is most common and causes the most pain in the weight-bearing joints like the shoulders, hips, elbows, knees, and ankles.

Osteoarthritis is a common, but under-recognized condition in senior cats.  The signs are often subtle, and can can be hard to distinguish – cats can’t complain about their aching joints, so all that pet owners see is a response to pain.   Cats with arthritis might avoid the activities they used to enjoy, some may become depressed or change their eating habits, others may simply seem grumpier than usual.  Since these symptoms can also indicate other very serious problems, a veterinary visit is imperative to ensure proper diagnosis.

There is no cure for arthritis, but it can be managed holistically: 

  • Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements such as Cosequin and omega-3-fatty acids can be useful in cats with mild to moderate disease. 
  • Adjust your cat’s environment – add steps or ramps to allow easier access to favorite sleeping areas, use litter boxes with a low entry for easy access and high sides for cats that can no longer sqat, use a fine consistency litter that’s easier on the paws.
  • Manage obesity to reduce additional stress on your cat’s joints.
  • Gently massage the large muscles around joints if your cat will tolerate it.
  • Acupuncture can be an affective treatment if your cat tolerates the visits to the acupuncturists’s office and the needles.
  • I’ve found Reiki to be a wonderful modality to help alleviate the pain and stiffness that can come with arthritis, especially in advanced cases when massage can be too painful. 
  • I recently started Amber, who has some mild arthritis in her hindlegs, on a Flower Essence Blend called “Run and Play.”  She seems to be a bit more playful since I started her on it, so I’m going to keep going with it. 
  • For severe cases, your veterinarian can prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medications.

By being aware of subtle changes in your cat and making the necessary adjustments, arthritis does not need to become a debilitating condition, and you can do much to keep your arthritic cat comfortable.

The Senior Cat Wellness Visit

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Regular veterinary exams are important at any age, but they become even more important as your cat ages.  Typically, veterinarians recommend annual exams for healthy pets up to age 6 or 7.  There is some controversy in the profession regarding the frequency of exams in younger cats, but most experts agree that even healthy senior cats should be examined at 6-month intervals.  This is important because:

  • Many disease conditions begin to develop in cats in middle age.
  • Health changes in cats can occur very quickly, and cats age faster than humans.
  • Cats are masters at masking disesase and by the time symptoms appear, they can present as acutely ill.
  • Cat parents may not always recognize the existence or importance of sublte changes, especially in multi-cat households.
  • Early detection of disease results in easier management and better quality of life.

A typical senior wellness visit will include the following:

  • Obtaining information from the cat’s person  regarding any behavior changes, changes in activity or litter box habits, changes in eating or drinking, current diet and supplements, and more.
  • A thorough physical exam that includes checking weight, skin and haircoat quality, oral cavity, ears, eyes, thyroid gland palpitation, listening to the heart, abdominal palpitation, checking of joints and muscle tone.
  • Bloodwork to check a complete bloodcount, chemistry screen and thyroid profile.  For more information about why bloodwork is so important, read “Bloodwoork For Your Pet:  What It Means and Why Your Pet Needs It.” 
  • Urinalysis to assess kidney function and bladder health.

Senior Feline Care Guidelines

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The American Association of Feline Practitioners has completed an updated version of the Senior Care Guidelines.  The guidelines will be published in the September issue of The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.  They address a broad range of issues including medical, behavioral and lifestyle considerations and will help veterinarians deliver consistent high quality care for older cats.  I’ll be sharing some of the highlights from these guidelines over the next weeks to help you make informed decisions about care for your own cats.

While there is no specific age at which a cat becomes a “senior” since individual animals age at different rates, the AAFP uses the following definitions:  “mature or middle-aged” (7-10 years), “senior” (11-14 years), and “geriatric” (15+ years).  The guidelines use the term “senior” to include all of these age groups.

The guidelines address the recommended frequency of wellness visits, the minimum database of lab values such as bloodwork and urinalysis that should be obtained at each visit, routine wellness care, nutrition and weight management, dental care, anesthesia and the special needs of the older cat, and monitoring and managing specific diseases.

The guidelines are dedicated to the memory of Dr. Jim Richards, the famed “kitty doctor” and former director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2007.  Two of his favorite quotes were “Cats are masters at hiding illness” and “Age is not a disease.”

Look for more information on the Senior Care Guidelines in future posts.

Thunderstorm Anxiety in Your Pets

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Few people are happy to endure the the sounds of a severe thunderstorm, complete with darkening skies, strong winds, flashes of lightning and crashing thunder.  Some become extremely anxious, and for some, the fear of thunderstorms turns into a full-blown phobia.

Some pets, especially dogs, are also affected by thunderstorm anxiety to varying degrees.  While some pets may tremble, whine, pace or hide under the bed during storms, in more severe cases, panicking dogs have been known to destroy furniture, jump through windows or otherwise harm themselves during storms.  In either case, this type of behavior is the sign of a very unhappy pet.

Fear is a normal response to a fear-inducing situation, whereas phobias are irrational, extreme reactions in which the fearful response is magnified to the point of dysfunction.  Behaviorists are not sure which part of the storm frightens pets the most – the lightning flashes and thunder, the winds blowing around the house or the sound of rain hitting the roof.  Some dogs even show signs of anxiety an hour or more before a storm hits, leading to the theory that they are reacting to changes in barometric pressure.

Many cats become nervous during storms and generally hide from the disturbance under beds or in dark, quiet corners.  Unlike dogs, they tend to not progress to the phobic stage – they simply wait out the storm in their safe place and come out of hiding when the storm has passed.

So what can you do to help your pet deal with thunderstorm anxiety?

Probably the best treatment is avoidance.  If there’s a place where your pet feels safe, be it a kennel or crate or a finished basement that is relatively light and sound proof, you can have your pet ride out the storm in his safe place.

Another option is desensitization.  This approach gradually retrains your pet by exposing her to gentle reminders of a thunderstorm such as a recording of distant thunder, and rewarding her for staying calm.  The idea is that over time, the response to the stimulus decreases. 

There are a number of natural remedies that work well for mild cases of thunderstorm anxiety.  My favorite is Rescue Remedy, a Bach Flower Essence blend.  There are other natural calming aids available, Holistic Pet Info offers a good selection along with some good advice on how to handle situations that cause stress for your pet.

It is important that you remain calm when your pet is afraid.  Our pets pick up on our emotions, and if we’re anxious, they’ll be anxious as well.  While it’s tempting to cuddle and comfort your pet during a storm, in your pet’s mind, this rewards the fearful behavior.  It’s much better to provide your pet with a safe, familiar place where he can ride out the storm.

In severe cases, a visit to your veterinarian is in order.  Your veterinarian can prescribe anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication to help keep your pet calm during storms.

Amber hates thunderstorms.  She chooses the shower stall in our small, windowless bathroom in the basement as her safe place during storms.  I’ve tried to sit with her during storms and comfort and reassure her, but she much prefers to be there by herself.  Once the storm passes, she comes back upstairs.  She would like to add that she particularly hates storms that come through during breakfast or dinner time.